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Betrayal and the Urge to Bite Back

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Psalms 52–55

As one who felt the sting of betrayal on numerous occasions, David’s psalms speak powerfully to this issue. They offer us wise counsel that is focused, not on the betrayer, but on the God who will take our burden on Himself and sustain us.


Betrayal and the Urge to Bite Back

Psalms 52–55

The themes of these next few psalms in our Wisdom Journey relate to the painful experience of being betrayed. David knew exactly what that felt like.

The heading of Psalm 52 says, “When Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, ‘David has come to the house of Ahimelech.’” You will find the account of this incident back in 1 Samuel 21 and 22.

David had been on the run from King Saul, whom God had rejected in favor of David. Saul was determined to kill David and eliminate his rival to the throne.

As David was running for his life, he arrived at the town of Nob, where the tabernacle was set up. Nob also was the place where the high priest Ahimelech, a descendant of Eli, resided.

Ahimelech helped David and his men by giving them the old bread from the showbread table in the tabernacle, as well as a prized relic that had been carefully wrapped and stored inside the tabernacle as a reminder of God’s protection. This was the sword that had once belonged to the giant Goliath.

So, with these provisions, along with this magnificent sword, David took off running again.

The trouble was that everything that had just happened was seen by King Saul’s chief herdsman, a wicked man named Doeg. Doeg saw enough to know that this was an opportunity to be rewarded for information about David. And that is exactly what he gave to King Saul. Doeg’s betrayal of David ended in bloodshed, as King Saul ordered the execution of Ahimelech, along with eighty-four priests in all.

This tragic betrayal deeply troubled David. In fact, David takes the time now to put his feelings and his frustrations and ultimately his prayer to God in the form of this psalm.

Psalm 52 opens in verse 1 with a comparison between the betrayer and God. David writes, “Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? The steadfast love of God endures all the day.” Betrayal is really a power grab. David waits for a power surge from God.

Nowhere in this psalm do you find David taking matters into his own hands. He is going to let Doeg fall into God’s hand of judgment. Verse 7 says of Doeg, “[He] sought refuge in his own destruction!” “This verse 7 reads like an epitaph on the grave of an evil man.”[1]

One thing is for certain here – Doeg’s character and actions revealed in Psalm 52 do nothing more than demonstrate the truth of the next psalm.

Psalm 53 opens in verse 1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” In this context, the fool is someone who effectively says, “God isn’t real; God doesn’t see and God doesn’t know what I have just done.” 

Oh, but God does see, and God does know. Only a fool would think he could get away with betrayal without God knowing it.

Psalm 54 continues this theme of betrayal, but here it is more painful to David because of who it involves. The heading tells us that this psalm was written “when the Ziphites went and told Saul, ‘Is not David hiding among us?’”

The Ziphites were members of David’s own tribe, the tribe of Judah. They were David’s extended relatives. His own extended family—all those cousins and aunts and uncles—betrayed him.

These are like the people you see at that annual family reunion out at the lake. You all get T-shirts ordered with your family name printed on them, and you get a photograph of everybody, young and old, there at the picnic.

It was David’s family members who gave Saul his exact location. By God’s intervention, David was able to get away. 

And then it happened again! Those same relatives, 1 Samuel 26 tells us, once again gave Saul David’s location. Frankly, that would be the last time I would ever want to see my relatives again, no matter how good the fried chicken was at the reunion.

Now Psalm 54 is a short song, but it’s long on wisdom. It offers three principles you can use as you process your own personal response through the pain of betrayal.

The first word is remember. David says in verse 3, “They do not set God before themselves.” In other words, remember that those who betray you have betrayed God first. They are traitors to God first and foremost.

Beloved, if you have been betrayed, take the time to remember that God Himself was betrayed by Satan, who then influenced God’s special creation, Adam and Eve, to betray Him as well.

And what about God the Son, the Lord Jesus? He was betrayed by Judas and His own people, His own extended family, the nation of Israel. The Lord certainly knows how it feels to be betrayed. So, remember.

The second word is trust. Listen to David’s prayer in verses 4-5: “Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. He will return the evil to my enemies.”

Let’s put that into our own words: “I can trust my life to the plan of God, and I can entrust those who betray me to the justice of God, though I don’t know when His justice will be accomplished. My life might not get any easier any time soon, but while others are saying there is no God to see or hear or care, I know God is alive and well.”

The third word is worship. Worship must take the place of revenge. Revenge keeps you stuck in life, and worship moves you forward in life.

This is David’s focus in verse 6, when he says, “I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.”

Now Psalm 55 continues this theme of betrayal. Only this time, David agonizes over the betrayal, not of an enemy or some extended family member, but of a close friend. He writes, “It is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together” (verses 13-14).

Bible scholars have suggested that David is alluding to the betrayal of Ahithophel, his former counselor. Ahithophel betrayed David and joined David’s son Absalom as he attempted to take his father’s place. Ahithophel even counseled Absalom on how to kill David and be done with him (2 Samuel 15–17).[2]

What do you do when betrayal hits so close to home? This would certainly excuse the desire for revenge, right? It would only be natural to strike back.

You may have heard the funny story of the man who was bitten by a rabid dog. He went to get tested, and his doctor finally came in with the grim news that he indeed had rabies. The man did not say a word. He just got out a piece of paper and began to write feverishly. His doctor thought the man was writing out his last will and testament, and he said, “Listen, there is a cure for rabies—you’re not going to die.” The man said, “I know that, but first, I’m making a list of people I want to bite.”

This is the way the world works. You bite back; you get even. But God says to do what David instructs you to do here in verse 22: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you.”

Cast your burden on the Lord. By the way, the “burden” includes your emotions that are so hurt, your thoughts that want to plan revenge, and your memory that wants to play the offense over and over again in your mind.

David says, “No, throw all of that onto the broad shoulders of your faithful Lord.” And remember, when you feel the pain of betrayal, He understands exactly how you feel.

[1] Robert L. Alden, Psalms: Songs of Dedication, vol. 2 (Moody Press, 1975), 11.


[2] A man named Ahithophel is also mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:34, and he is said to be the father of Eliam. Since 2 Samuel 11:3 notes that Eliam is the father of Bathsheba, some scholars suggest that the Ahithophel of 2 Samuel 15 may in fact be Bathsheba's grandfather.

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